Friday, 27 April 2007
Criminal Justice Bill 2007: Committee and Remaining Stages
Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, seek to empower the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, to retry a person when new evidence emerges. It is not envisaged that this measure will be used very often but it would allow the courts, when important new evidence comes to light, to reconsider a crime involving a person who was acquitted.
The proposal arises from the recommendations of the Criminal Law Review Group which reported this week. The group recommended that cases that ended in acquittal should be reopened when new evidence comes to light. This is incompatible with the doctrine of autrefois acquit or double jeopardy. Changes in other common law jurisdictions have been made to allow such measures and they should be carefully considered since the Tánaiste indicated to the Dáil on Committee Stage that he was sympathetic towards this principle.
In tabling this amendment I am reinforced by the recommendation of the Hogan committee. It is ludicrous that the Criminal Justice Bill is going ahead without taking into account the recommendations of a high-powered committee chaired by the eminent lawyer, Mr. Gerard Hogan. I take note of the committee's recommendations in this regard.
According to the report of the Criminal Law Review Group, a conviction occurred in Britain last year when a murderer, who was acquitted in two trials, made a subsequent admission and accepted responsibility for the death of the unfortunate woman in question. This case led to the use in Britain of the type of mechanism I have outlined. The man's acquittal was quashed, he was retried on new evidence and convicted of murder.
The report of the Criminal Law Review Group also gives us the benefit of the views of its members on the European Convention on Human Rights. Everything we do in this regard must remain within the terms of the Constitution and the convention. This issue has been analysed by the Criminal Law Review Group and its recommendation arises on the basis that any such proposal would be constitutional and in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
I will repeat what I said in the DÃ¡il on this proposed amendment. It is outside the scope of the Bill as it was originally intended and it raises some interesting questions. There was a notion that a person could not be subjected to what is termed double jeopardy regarding a charge which had ended in acquittal. My view is in accordance with that of Senator Cummins. I believe that if new evidence comes to light, it should be possible in principle to reopen a case if that evidence could not reasonably have been available to a diligent prosecutor at the time of the original case.
In a different but related way, there are grounds for having the capacity to reopen a case when there has been interference with a jury. In that case, there is much to be said for allowing the acquittal to be quashed without prejudice to a retrial. The appropriate place to deal with the matter is in the context of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. A number of things must be done. We have to face up to better protections for our juries and deal with the issue of with prejudice appeals or re-openings of cases, not simply in the narrow case with which we are dealing here, which is when new evidence becomes available, but also where intimidation is used to prevent evidence being put before a court or to procure a miscarriage of justice by intimidating the jury.
I would go one stage further as part of the reforms the Hogan committee have examined. I believe strongly in jury trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence. These concepts would not be in any way prejudiced if we were to have a system for every jury trial that at the beginning of the case the nature and substance of the defence must be outlined to the jury at first instance in order that the jury sitting in panel to hear a case knows exactly what are the issues in the case. To take the simple example of a rape case, if the issue in the case is not that the girl was raped but that the accused states he was not the person who did it, this should be stated to the jury at the beginning of the case, in other words, that it was a case of mis-identification or the accused was not the assailant. Likewise, in a rape case, if the issue is that there was consent, the jury should know from the get-go of the trial that this is the issue in the case. Therefore, without in any way prejudicing the concepts of jury trial, truth beyond reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence and adversarial justice, in which I also believe, we could and should introduce into in our criminal justice system a balancing mechanism that in jury trials the accused, having had the benefit of lawyers, must pin himself to some approach to the case the jury can understand.
What are the consequences of not having such a mechanism at present? They are that in some cases 50, 80 or hundreds of witnesses are brought to court to prove a whole series of facts, only a minority of which may become relevant to the jury's determination of guilt or innocence. For instance, witnesses may or may not be brought to establish that the scene of the body in a murder case was or was not preserved and it may transpire at the end of the case that the issue is that it was manslaughter rather than murder or provocation. In such circumstances, the state of the body is utterly irrelevant and the state of mind of the accused is the only issue the jury has to consider.
This approach was described by an eminent senior counsel in a seminar in Dublin Castle as trial by ambush. The Director of Public Prosecutions has also adopted this phrase. The prosecution has no idea when it sets off on its case where the battleground will be eventually and, in bringing its evidence before the court, has no idea what witnesses are likely to be challenged and to what extent they will be challenged. All witnesses are put forward, even though most of the evidence they give may be irrelevant to the actual narrow battleground on which the accused is proposing to decide the case.
I would go further than the Hogan committee and introduce a system of formal defence and require an accused person, if he or she is going before a jury and asking 12 adult citizens to spend a week considering a case, to do them the common courtesy of establishing at the beginning of the case what the issues are and to have it clear that, in the event that the issue in a rape case, for instance, is one of consent, the jury can state that it does not have to bother too much about issues such as the photographer's evidence and other matters related to the locus in quo. It can say these matters are not material because the accused will state he was in the woman's bedroom for the purpose of consensual sexual relations and it does not, therefore, matter that the crime scene is laid out this way or that or that people were or were not seen entering the house because his defence is radically different. The Bill also contains provisions for drawing inferences from failing to mention facts when one is under interrogation. These are largely based on equivalent provisions in UK law which have been in place since 1994 without any controversy of significance, so far as I know.
The same Act that in 1994 introduced the provisions with which we are dealing here also changed UK law with regard to criminal trials by introducing a procedure whereby, at the end of the prosecution case, in the full plain sight of the jury, the accused is asked to state, through his lawyers, if he has lawyers, whether he will give evidence. He is warned that if he does not give evidence the jury may draw inferences from that fact, as appropriate in the case. We have not included that provision in the Bill but it is an issue to which we should return if we intend to carry out a more radical re-balancing of the criminal justice system.
The nature of our criminal trials has altered over the years. The UK approach to this issue is not unfair or unreasonable. A jury is entitled to decide, for example, that it has heard a woman say many things about her assailant. However, if the assailant does not give evidence in court, no comment whatsoever is made on the matter and the jury is left to wonder as to the significance of this. The members of the jury are not even entitled to draw an inference from the exercise of the right to silence.
I mention all of this because I believe there are many further steps that can be taken and that there were many issues developed in the Hogan report, and some which were not in the Hogan report, which we should take further and explore. The Bill is part of a package which I adumbrated last December in response to the upsurge in gangland crime. It was not my intention to have a radical reform of the entire criminal law in the Bill. Instead, I intended to introduce particular focused measures which would assist the gardaÃ in their fight against gangland crime. Doubtless what Senator Cummins refers to could, in certain circumstances, be useful in that context also.
I sympathise with the purport of the Senator's amendment but, having brought the Bill before the House in its present form, and having narrowed its focus, I do not believe it would be appropriate at this stage to widen the focus of the Bill to other issues. We would all be accused of acting without adequate consultation if we began to introduce new departures in the reform of the criminal law in this legislation.
The criminal law is not fixed in stone. Some of its fundamental principles are fixed principles which should not be departed from but many of its attributes, and the criminal justice system's attributes, have evolved dramatically over time. For example, until the 1890s in England and the 1920s in Ireland the accused was not a competent witness for the defence, nor was his wife. In 1924 we changed our law to its present state but some people think what we have has been in place since the dawn of time, which it has not given that we have changed many aspects of it.
In 1984, when we introduced detention for the purpose of questioning, we left the judges' rules unchanged, although this legislation will deal with that issue. We must keep the criminal law up to date and in keeping with modern developments and the threat of modern crime. I cannot say to this House, hand on heart, that everything I would like to do with regard to the criminal justice system is contained in the Bill. It is a narrow, focused set of measures. Extraneous matters, such as that those referred to in Senator Cummins' proposal and his further amendments regarding the exclusionary rule, are very serious, and I dealt with them in extenso in DÃ¡il Ãireann. We should focus on what is in the Bill rather than introducing new material to it. I do not propose to widen the scope of the Bill at this point.
I am pleased the Minister agrees with some of my amendments. However, that he is not prepared to accept them highlights what is going on here. While the Minister may find some amendments worthy, he will not accept any of them, which is out of character for him as on previous occasions he accepted a number of amendments from this side of the House. What we are doing today is a farce as no amendments will be accepted. We are talking in a vacuum. Some Members have refused to take part in the debate today because it is such a farce. It is a sad reflection on the House that it is seen only as a rubber stamp. That is what is happening here today.
I have agreed with the Minister on policy issues on several occasions and we are of one mind in certain areas. Will he accept an amendment today or is there any point in proposing amendments to which he is agreeable but which he will not accept? That is not the democracy for which people have fought and legislated over the years. It is a sad indictment that this farce and lack of consultation is what we face. The Law Society and other bodies have criticised the rushed manner in which the Bill was introduced and the lack of consultation on it.
I admit some improvements were made in the other House and some time was given to debate. While I believe it is out of character for the Minister to deal with the Bill as he is doing here, I regret the House is being treated as it is today.
The comments of Senator Cummins were also made yesterday on Second Stage and, therefore, I will not repeat them. I was critical of the fact that a 64-page Bill was not given adequate attention in this House, but I will not resume that issue. I appreciate the comments of the TÃ¡naiste explaining his view of the jury system. I was once on a jury and am aware it is a frustrating experience because of the array of decisions a jury has to make. Fortunately, the jury on which I served was dismissed and did not have to make any decisions as the 12 of us would have had great difficulty making our decisions.
The Minister spoke about a radical rebalance, based on the Hogan report, in a new Bill. On that basis, I support the change not being made in this Bill because the focus of this one is on gangland crime. Therefore, I do not want the Bill broadened further. A significant new Bill to deal with the issue might be required and I wonder whether the TÃ¡naiste sees himself facing that task in the future and whether it would be a high priority. I believe it would be. I find it scary that we do not seem to have taken all the required steps with regard to interference with juries. I understand from what the Minister has said, that if new evidence comes through, the possibility of double jeopardy still exists. Will he say whether he sees himself giving priority to ensuring these areas are handled in a secondary Bill?
The Hogan committee was established last November and, in respect of the right to silence issue and the drawing of inferences, I asked the committee to produce a break-out report because I was legislating in an affected area. I did not ask the committee to rush through its full report for the purpose of this legislation and allowed it time to consider the other issues at greater length.
There is significant scope for a broader reform of our criminal justice system. We should look around the world, not just to the United Kingdom, for alternative models of procedure to make the criminal justice system more realistic. Jury trial aims to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is not an arcane game in which because something was done 200 years ago, it must be done now, or because it was not, it cannot now. The nature of crime and of the rights of the accused have changed dramatically. In medieval times, when a prosecution witness finished testifying, he was added to the jury, which shows how jury trial has changed. The majority verdict is a relatively new innovation in this State and purist lawyers 20 or 30 years ago would have said it was wrong and possibly diminished the presumption of innocence or proof beyond reasonable doubt.
If I return to these Houses in this capacity or a similar one, I intend to proceed with further reforms of the criminal justice system. This Bill is not the be all and end all. There is a broader agenda for the Legislature to address. Issues such as the exclusionary rule and sentencing policy guidelines are coming up and we must consider them and get them right.
Senator Cummins says that my rejection of this measure detracts from the proceedings of this House, even though I accept it in principle. It was put before the other House too where I rejected it on the grounds I have advanced here. I am not unwilling to accept something simply because it is put forward in the Seanad and that is inconvenient to me, but the scope of the Bill is narrow and I do not want to broaden it to a major reforming measure, especially when people are shouting from the ditches that there has not been adequate consultation or reflection on the narrow group of proposals in the original Bill.
In respect of the narrow scope of the Bill and the Oireachtas process, I said in the other House and in public that I would listen to the criticisms made, and I have done so. There has been significant change, adjustment and accommodation of the arguments against the original Bill. I have not been unfair or unreasonable.
It would be odd for me to accept amendments in this House which have been considered and rejected by the other House. This in no way demeans my presence in this House.
We are now discussing the rights and dignities of the House rather than the Bill. The TÃ¡naiste can see the appetite in the House for such a discussion. I take some hope from his response to Senator Quinn that future consideration of these important issues concerning the liberty and rights of the subject might, if legislation is proposed, make use of the strengths of the House. This is a reflective House. We will not all return after the summer, but in the names of our putative successors, I suggest that there is a realisation that the Seanad could be a good place to debate this type of issue. It tends to be more reflective and less adversarial than the other House and it would genuinely assist a Minister to develop legislation of this kind in future.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, before section 5, but in Part 1, to insert the following new section:
5.âThe Minister shall, by regulation under this section, make provision for identification of suspects by witnesses, victims and other persons where the suspect can be identified through a one-way screen and the identity of the witness, victim or other person can be withheld.".
This amendment is designed to put the witness protection programme on a statutory footing. The Minister will agree that at present, there is an extremely slapdash approach to this area and this can only be of benefit to gangland figures and other serious organised criminals.
This amendment was tabled in the DÃ¡il and seeks to make provision for identification parades to be conducted through one-way mirrors. The idea is that the accused person need not be necessarily physically in a position to see the identifying person or that the old method â which happily is now gone â in which, for example, the victim of a rape was obliged to put his or her hand on the shoulder of the assailant and state this was the person, should not be visited upon someone who has already undergone one trauma and does not need to have it compounded by another traumatic experience.
I will repeat my comments in the other House, namely, it is not necessary to have a statutory basis for a one-way mirror system of identification. There is a great deal to be said in favour of having one-way mirror systems and as I noted in the other House one could have a dedicated identity parade facility in large population centres. However, it does not always work out that identity parades can be held in centres of major population in which there would be legitimate cause for setting out a room in a special manner to facilitate such a system of identification. I made the point in the DÃ¡il that one could bring portable screens to a location in order that one is not obliged to bring people to a room or whatever. Effectively, one could bring the facility to a place where one proposed to hold an identification parade.
However, I also pointed out in the other House that there are some issues in this regard. If a person is accused of a serious crime and an identification parade is in contemplation, he or she is entitled to be sure the parade is fair. Members of the other House had some fun in this regard. When Deputy Howlin noted he was once on an identity parade, other Members expressed the hope that the other people involved were not all 6 ft. 6 in. The composition of the identity parade should be fair and photographed or whatever in order that people can see it was reasonably fair, that people's appearances were approximately similar and not radically different or that only one person was produced who corresponded with the complaint made by the identifying witness.
Moreover, as regards fairness, there must be some way of verifying that the identity parade was fair. For instance, if a witness came into a cubicle and behind a one-way mirror identified or somehow indicated that it was parade member No. 4, the question arises as to whether he or she was being prompted and what could he or she see. In addition, the question arises as to whether an accused person, who did not have a lawyer or witness behind the screen who was in a position to see what was going on, would simply accept a voice coming through a microphone stating it was parade member No. 4 without knowing what guidance was being given or what prejudicing of the identification had taken place. There is a need for one-way mirrors and enhanced guidelines for identification parades to protect the witnesses of traumatic, violent and sexual crimes from unnecessary trauma in the identification process, but a statutory basis is not needed. Currently, ministerial regulations do not need to be made as it is a matter for judges to decide. Guidelines can be handed down within the Garda SÃochÃ¡na as part of a manual for the determination of these issues and those guidelines can be changed from time to time without Oireachtas involvement.
These are the arguments I advanced in the DÃ¡il against accepting the amendment while emphasising that one-way screens would greatly assist the sense of well-being and dignity of especially vulnerable witnesses, such as victims of sexual crime, and enhance their capacity to make reflective identifications of persons who may have committed crimes against them. Walking into a room where the person who may have raped one is present and watching is an unnecessarily brutal encounter because there is no privacy or time to consider each person carefully. I believe in the one-way mirror system, but it does not need a statutory basis. Rather we need to get on with the changes.
I welcome the TÃ¡naiste's response. He has put the case for one-way mirrors better than I would have, but will we introduce guidelines as a matter of urgency given that we are in agreement? Is it intended to issue guidelines to put one-way mirrors in place soon?
Following the DÃ¡il debate, I asked my Department to examine the issue. It will consult the Garda on the practicalities of the proposal. I cannot give a firm deadline, but it is a necessary reform that should be introduced.
I was going to make my suggestion later, namely, the question of filming people declining to admit to something after being cautioned. It would be sensible to have a small number of Garda stations fitted for such matters, perhaps one in each division, as one would not expect that degree of preparation in each station. In those circumstances, rooms could be properly fitted out for identification parades with one-way windows, which would be efficient. Several PSNI stations have major interrogation suites equipped to adhere to human rights and other requirements.
5.—(1) Where evidence is obtained in contravention of a person's constitutional rights, whether numerated or unenumerated, such evidence may, having regard to the totality of the circumstances of the case and, in particular, the rights of the victim, be deemed by the court to be nonetheless admissible, unless—
These amendments seek to clarify the 1990 judgment in the Kenny case whereby the courts decided that evidence obtained illegally or unconstitutionally could not be admitted in a criminal trial. The decision has since been rigidly applied by the courts to the detriment of justice. We would rather see a balancing of rights whereby the seriousness of the breach of the defendant's rights should be weighed against the crime or its impact. Therefore, the purpose of the amendments is to modify and clarify the rule of evidence known as the exclusionary rule, which was established by Chief Justice Finlay in the 1990 case. The application of the rule has developed to such an extent as to mean a technical breach of the accused's constitutional rights, however minor or insignificant, can cause an otherwise sound case to collapse, which is wrong.
I strongly agree with the Senator's proposal and if I had a free hand, I would accept the amendments. However, I reiterate the argument I made in the House that these amendments say to the Supreme Court that we do not like the decision made in 1990 and we agree with the two judges in the minority rather than the majority of three judges. We would, therefore, be legislating on the assumption that the two judges in the minority were correct and the majority view was incorrect. That can be done if the Attorney General advises that it is sound law. One can in theory challenge a judgment legislatively. However, the problem is if the amendment is made and the legislation is referred under Article 26 of the Constitution to the Supreme Court and it says the majority view still stands, then the entire Bill will be out the window. We discussed this in the DÃ¡il and the general consensus was that it would be better to approach this on the basis of a single issue Bill, if the legislative option is taken.
There are three options. One is to wait for a case to come along and re-argue the issue but the problem with that is the Kenny case is clear and the DPP is independent of the Executive. The Executive, therefore, cannot ask him to re-argue the case. He may not wish to do it by himself but he is quite independent and the Government cannot say it will reopen the issue before the Supreme Court. The second way of dealing with it is to hold a constitutional referendum but even drafting the amendment could be quite difficult. The third and most preferable way is to attempt to restate the law in a way that is consistent with the minority view in the Kenny case and reflects Senator Cummins's amendments and, in those circumstances, to have the Bill enacted or referred to the Supreme Court. At least at that point an effort would have been made to mitigate the more rigid aspects of the ruling in the Kenny case.
I recall a case in which I was involved where a warrant was sought for an apartment in St. Audoen's House, which is across the river from the Four Courts. The District Court judge in the Bridewell must have looked at the detective's handwriting and the clerk who drew up the warrant wrote it out for St. Andrew's House, not recognising St. Audoen's because the handwriting was a little sketchy. The warrant was issued by the clerk to the gardaÃ. There was an office block on St. Andrew's Street called St. Andrew's House. When this came to light, the search and seizure of the property in St. Audoen's House was declared invalid because the warrant clearly did not authorise entry to that building. The gardaÃ did not notice this when they carried out the search of the apartment in St. Audoen's House because they assumed the clerk had transposed what they had sworn in their written information into the warrant. They conducted the search, found the evidence on which the prosecution was based and it was only during the trial that the difference between the two documents was noticed. It was held that the search on foot of the invalid warrant had to fall and the evidence seized under it was inadmissible. This is the type of case to which Senator Cummins refers because most people would think that is grotesque. That is the rigid position outlined in the Kenny case.
In the Hogan report, the majority, including former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, and Professor David Gwynn Morgan, were of the view that the decision in the Kenny case should be revisited. However, the chairman, Dr. Gerard Hogan was of the view that the existing law was better than any such amendment. Doctors differ and patients die; lawyers differ and cases die. I sympathise with the Senator's view of the matter. However, if I accepted the amendment, I would need to ask that the Bill be referred under Article 26 to the Supreme Court for decision. If the Senator and I were wrong in anticipating the views of the present Supreme Court on the matter, the entire legislation package would collapse if such an Article 26 reference took place. Therefore, if we are to go down the legislative route in future, it would be appropriate to have a single-purpose Bill on which other issues do not depend and revisit the matter that way.
If gardaÃ search a house on foot of a warrant and discover evidence relevant to another case, they are entitled to seize it and act on foot of it. While I am not an expert on American law, I can say that the exclusionary rules there are very strict. While I do not know if it is still the case, it seemed to be upheld at federal and Supreme Court level that the use of a scanner from a road to monitor the heat in the attic spaces of houses, which gave an indication of a very hot attic in the house of a well known drug dealer giving rise to the inference that he was cultivating cannabis plants in the attic space, was held to be an unconstitutional violation of his rights in the United States. St. Andrew's House and St. Audoen's House may seem strict, but that seems very strict to me.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, line 21, after "bail" to insert "and shall otherwise be of good behaviour".
I am surprised that this amendment was not accepted when it was moved in the other House. Does the TÃ¡naiste believe that a person on bail should not otherwise be of good behaviour? Given the significant volume of crime committed by persons on bail, I ask him to reconsider the amendment.
This is a proposal to insert in the conditions under which bail can be granted that the person shall not infringe the criminal law and also "shall otherwise be of good behaviour". It mirrors the conditions frequently laid down when sentences are suspended that the person being admitted to liberty on a suspended sentence enters into a cognisance to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. However, the Attorney General advised me that he was unhappy with the good behaviour requirement in the original text generated in my Department. His argument was that we were dealing with an innocent person, because bail decisions were necessarily being made about people who were innocent of the charge on which they were being admitted to bail. The proposal is for a condition that an applicant should not infringe the criminal law be attached to the granting of bail, and he had no problem with that. However, the Attorney General's view was that to attach additional obligations of good behaviour or good citizenship was vulnerable to a challenge by the European Court of Human Rights. A requirement that a person who was wholly innocent, about whom a decision was to be made as to his or her liberty pending trial, not only obey the law but also be an impeccable citizen of exemplary behaviour might not stand up to challenge. The original draft, which was along the lines of Senator Cummins's amendment, was moderated on advice that we were going too far by imposing uncertain, arbitrary and unjustifiable standards of good behaviour, over and above compliance with the law, as a requirement for being granted liberty at a time when a person is presumed to be innocent.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 20, before section 24, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:
"24.âIn this Partâ
"Freedom of Information Acts" means the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 to 2003;
"law terms" refers to the four periods (to wit Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity) of prescribed sittings for the Superior Courts, as defined in Order 118, rule 1 of the Rules of the Superior Courts;
"the Register" means the Register of Sentences established by section 4;
"the Service" means the body established by the Courts Service Act 1998;
"time already served" means the period of time, prior to conviction, during which the convicted person was detained in custody without bail.".
These amendments restate Fine Gael's position on the register of sentences. Fine Gael seeks to introduce sensible and much needed legislation to improve the effectiveness, accountability and transparency of our criminal justice system. We want to create a comprehensive register of sentences that will detail all sentences handed down in Ireland. It would act as an authoritative and definitive database of sentences, a resource which would assist legal professionals, the Judiciary, legal researchers, policy makers, academics and legislators.
Through the mechanism of such a register, sentencing norms can be assessed and trends easily identified. A register of sentences will introduce greater transparency to the sentencing process within the criminal justice system and allow access to the information for all people, rather than a select number of civil servants.
This is an important measure and is reasonable and straightforward. It represents a simple change in the procedures that would have positive effects. The Government voted down a Fine Gael Private Members' Bill on the issue but the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has an opportunity to change his stance on the matter today.
The proposal in this group of amendments is to establish a register of sentences in criminal cases. The establishment of such a register would require the case number, the offence, the particulars of the offence and any mitigating factors relied on by the convicted person or his defence counsel, as well as other details, to be noted. It would be an enormously difficult task for a person to take a note of two or three hours of evidence, as would be the case in a serious trial. Somebody would have to register all that information.
Regarding the convicted person's previous convictions, if any, that would be complex but not impossible to do. Subsequently, updated information would have to come from the prison service and the Courts Service about whatever happened, say, if the person was granted early release, whether the person had their sentence remitted or whatever. That would be a useful exercise but my problem is who would do it? If this were to be done in every case, and this applies to every case, we would have a massive workload because to put out the material in subsection (2) in every case that came before the courts would take two or three hours to check to ensure it was right, take all the notes of what happened in court and so on. It would take a lot of time to put that material in place.
To give an example, if somebody was up for shoplifting and their case was dealt with in the District Court, we would have to have somebody in the District Court â a garda or a court official â who would take a careful note of what was said on behalf of the accused as to the reason the man or woman in question should not be sentenced to jail for shoplifting. Psychiatric or psychological evidence could be given or poverty issues could be put forward. If all that was to be registered, it would be a hefty task.
I agree with the Fine Gael proposal in the sense that it would be welcome to know this information in every case and to be able to say that out of 10,000 shoplifting cases, the average sentence is one month, a â¬50 fine or, in 80% of cases on a first offence, the probation Act is applied having regard to exculpatory or various mitigating evidence given by the accused. That is a world of perfection, however, which does not exist in reality. To have the apparatus in place that would give this register the input it needs in the District Court in Newcastle West, New Ross or in the Circuit Court in Enniscorthy, Wexford or wherever would be hugely costly and there are not people whose job it is to do it. Either gardaÃ or court officials would have to do it, but whichever of them had to do it, it would be a massive imposition on the courts system.
I do not want to be destructive. The idea is good in principle. It would be a good idea to have researchers go to our courts and do a study on the way the Judiciary deals with, say, shoplifting cases. They could take 100 shoplifting cases at random and get the Courts Service to co-operate with that and indicate what happened in each of them. A criminologist could go to court and see what happened in those cases to determine if there was a pattern. I could see that having some merit. Likewise, in rape cases which are dealt with in the Central Criminal Court, there should be no problem about having a researcher examine them to determine the average sentence and to put material into a study based on the age of the accused, mitigating circumstances or whatever.
Whatever about the practicality of those studies, and they would be difficult enough, this universal system which would require input from the Garda, the Courts Service and the prison service to keep the register up to date and effective, is something the current bureaucracy cannot take on at this stage. I could not resource it and if I had the resources for that, people would argue they would be better invested in the probation and welfare service or something more useful.
The Minister has accepted the principle of the amendment and obviously the cost comes into play. I am not suggesting we have a monopoly of wisdom in this regard but some register of sentencing should be kept. This is done in other jurisdictions and I hope a number of researchers would be employed to refer to a register of sentencing. What the amendment suggests is somewhat rigid but I am open to being convinced that it can be done in another way. It would certainly be a very useful exercise.
While I am not keen on the statutory approach, the Courts Service, which is an independent body that administers the operation of the courts and on which the Judiciary has a majority, established a steering committee in October 2004 to plan for and provide a system of information on sentencing. The initiative of the board was designed to provide some systemic form of information as a reference point for judges.
The terms of reference are to plan for and provide information on sentencing. The committee consists of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, who is chairperson, Mr. Justice Kevin O'Higgins, Mr. Justice Esmond Smyth, Judge Miriam Malone, president of the District Court, and Professor Tom O'Malley, who is known to some Members of this House.
The steering committee has reviewed sentencing systems worldwide and identified those of Scotland and New South Wales in Australia as being most relevant to our situation. Professor Cyrus Tata, who is the director of the Centre for Sentencing Research at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, made a presentation to the committee on the sentencing system operating in the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland for ten years. Professor Tata played a leading role in the development of the Scottish sentencing information system. The committee decided to establish a pilot project in the Circuit Court in Dublin. I understand two researchers have been selected to collect and collate information on sentencing outcomes in cases on indictment in designated courts in accordance with the criteria specified by the committee. It is not as if nothing is happening on this front. If I were to introduce the all bells and whistles mandatory provisions along the lines of those proposed by Senator Cummins, the cost and manpower implications would be truly massive.
I have a comment to make which I did not make on Second Stage. We have had a number of debates in the House on sentencing. There should be some sort of commission composed exclusively of the Judiciary which could review sentences passed by its peers, especially those that appear out of sync. There are very eminent and sensible people in the Judiciary, but it also contains some very eccentric people. To the ordinary person, even on an informed basis, some sentences can raise serious questions. In a republic, nobody should be above the law.
My second point, which is probably not related to this, is that I am disappointed that we have not set up a commission that would monitor the conduct of the Judiciary. We have seen some high-profile situations where we did not have the mechanism to deal with them expeditiously. In one case, the judge found himself resigning where it should not have been necessary for him to do so. In another case, somebody was not fired when he should have been. We should learn from these cases and I urge the Minister to ensure we move in that direction when he is back in office so that people who are given very important and privileged positions within our system and society are accountable when they transgress.
It is a cause of regret to me that insufficient progress has been made on the judicial council legislation. In defence of my Department and its officials, they worked on a number of drafts and are still awaiting a response from the consultative process we put in place involving the Judiciary.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 21, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Subject to subsection (3), where a person (other than a person under the age of 18 years)â
(a) has been convicted on indictment of an offence specified in Schedule 2 (in this section referred to as "the first offence"),
(b) has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than 12 months in respect of that offence, and
(c) who commits an offence specified in Schedule 2 (in this section referred to as "the subsequent offence")â
(i) while serving the sentence of imprisonment, or
(ii) during time remitted from that sentence of imprisonment,
the court shall, in imposing sentence on the person in respect of the subsequent offence, specify as the minimum term of imprisonment to be served by the person, a term of not less than three quarters of the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed by law in respect of such an offence and, if the maximum term so prescribed is life imprisonment, the court shall specify a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years.".
These are mainly technical amendments. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
These are technical amendments based on a number of issues raised in the other House in regard to sentencing and repeat offenders under Schedule 2. We have amended the law satisfactorily in the other House. There was a general welcome for the scope of the amendments we made and it is not necessary to reopen the debate.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 33, before section 32, to insert the following new section:
"32.âPrior to the commencement of any section in this Part, the Minister shall make such changes and amendments as are necessary to the Judges' Rules and to the form of caution given to persons to whom this Part applies.".
Amendment No. 25ââ
In the DÃ¡il we amended the Bill by inserting section 32, which deals with the form of cautions that can be administered to people under the judges' rules. That is in section 32, as it now stands. Senator Cummins's amendments may, in effect, try and deal with the same territory from a slightly different angle, but the matter has been addressed.
Yes. What I was seeking has probably been changed in another section. The Bill represents an ideal opportunity to examine the outdated judges' rules and to update them so they serve the interests of justice more fully. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.
As the House will be aware, the judges' rules are a series of rules laid down by a judicial committee on a reference from the UK Home Secretary in the early 1900s, in which he asked judges to examine the question of what safeguards should be applied to people who are at risk of making inculpatory statements to the police. They more or less remained the same until now with some minor statutory modifications, namely, that an accused person has to be told he or she is not obliged to say anything unless he or she wishes to do so, but anything he or she does say will be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence. Anything said by the accused is then required to be reduced to writing and proffered to the accused for his or her signature or acknowledgement. All of this must happen before oral statements by an accused person under questioning are deemed admissible. Any departure from this system without reasonable excuse is a ground for challenging the admissibility of those statements.
This is all very well except that we have now gone to considerable trouble to install video suites. Given the technology available, asking gardaÃ to take a longhand note of a staccato cross-examination of a person under detention is absurd. With the best will in the world, gardaÃ will not secure a perfect account of what happened. Words count hugely and there can be confusion as to what precisely they mean. I know of one case where an accused was convicted on the basis of his response to a garda's assertion that "We know you did it", which was "I know you know I did it but you will have to prove it". It all depends on how those words were spoken, whether in a dismissive tone or in a tone of admission. That formula of words ended up sustaining a conviction in this case. To ask gardaÃ to make notes of conversations like that and to contend that those conversations cannot be used in evidence unless they are written out in longhand is crazy. The use of video-recording means we know precisely what was said and the tone and circumstances in which it was said, and there is no argument as to the exact wording that was used on both sides.
The purpose of section 32 is to allow for regulations to be made that will provide for a new system of cautions in respect of persons in custody who are being interviewed in regard to offences. These will vary from place to place depending on the statutory provision that is being invoked. For instance, under Part 4, where the gardaÃ plan to rely on the failure of an accused to mention a matter while under interrogation, it must be explained in ordinary language to the person who is being interrogated what the consequences of that failure will be. That could be entirely different from a situation where no such discussion is taking place and a generally compliant accused person is simply making a statement under caution.
The system of regulations will be variable and will be a matter to be worked out once this legislation is in operation. Draft regulations will have to be prepared and presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas under subsection (6) of section 32.
This section deals with the establishment of a Garda executive management board. While I agree with much of the section, the requirement that a person should cease to be a non-executive member of the board upon being elected to the Oireachtas or a local authority seems to be part of a thread that is creeping through the legislation passed in these Houses. Local authority members and public representatives appear to be under attack by means of their exclusion from many of the boards provided for in legislation over the past several months.
The Bill requires board members to have expertise in the strategic and financial management of organisations, human resources and planning and review functions. Is the Bill suggesting local authority members are not willing and able to develop those qualifications? I know many people in this House and on local authorities who, despite having the relevant qualifications, are barred from boards because they are public representatives. That is a disgrace and an insult to members of the Oireachtas and local authorities, and the policy should be rethought.
Members have paid lip-service to this issue during the debates on other Bills but they went along with the Whip when it came to the crunch. If they felt so strongly about the matter, they should vote against it. I am conveying my concerns about the exclusion of public representatives from this and other boards contained in the legislation passed in this House.
I concur with Senator Cummins. We felt strongly enough on the issue to put down a motion to the Fianna FÃ¡il Parliamentary Party which was passed unanimously. To our dismay, we then saw the offending provisions were contained in subsequent Bills.
I am not sure why that should be the case. There is no reason for it in any Bill. When this issue previously arose eight or nine years ago, I raised it with several Ministers, including the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We discovered that certain civil servants have a propensity to include this as a blanket exclusion. I do not see similar exclusions in relation to Department officials.
It is absolute nonsense to include the exclusion in this Bill. The Minister has established joint policing committees and, while I am critical of the fact that an unnecessary pilot scheme is in operation at the request of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the policing committees will make a significant improvement to police effectiveness and act as a conduit for communication between the Garda and the community. People who serve on those committees will develop sufficient expertise to equip them for membership of the management board. While we are not in a position to amend this Billââ
I hate to shatter the harmony of the House on this section, but I am obviously betraying the baggage I carry with me as a former civil servant. I agree with this provision. These people are not there to be representative. There is provision for local authority representation and reflection on policing through the local liaison committees. Whatever about county councillors, I do not think Members of the Oireachtas should be engaged in this. As a result of my past experience, I have been asked several times by the Public Appointments Service to sit on boards but I have always refused to do so. I think it is wrong for a Member of the Oireachtas to be involved in the making of public appointments or anything else like that. It might betray my background because I come from a place where we fought that sort of thing for years and I do not want to see it being reintroduced. They are not looking at policing, but at the management of policing and it is not unreasonable to exclude Members of the Oireachtas from that.
I have considerable sympathy for the general proposition that there seems to be a creeping policy of excluding Members of the Oireachtas from virtually anything that moves. Any such exclusion must be justified on an individual basis. I agree that every time there is a draft Bill, this little item should not appear from the word processor concerning any State body. There is a reason to go down this road now, however. The proposed architecture of accountability includes an Oireachtas joint policing committee. Members of the Oireachtas will be able to participate through that committee in a direct, one-to-one relationship with the Garda SÃochÃ¡na. Therefore, there will be an opportunity for Members of the Oireachtas, not simply as members of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, but as members of a policing committee, to become involved with the accountability of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In addition, from time to time, members of that committee will join the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which has a majority of political appointments according to the d'Hondt principles, in an all-Ireland policing forum. That is the second item we wish to put in place, if we can. I do not know whether that was envisaged by the Patten report, but it is envisaged now as part of the criminal law process.
I want public representatives, be they Members of the Oireachtas or members of local authorities, to play a full part in the life of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na through the local policing committees. As Senator Maurice Hayes said, however, this is a different thing. It is an executive management board which I would envisage meeting once a week to discuss radios, the fixed-point penalty system, recruitment of the Garda Reserve Force and other items. It would assist the full-time Garda members of the executive board and would also assist the person at deputy commissioner level who will be a lay person, not a garda, under the proposals emanating from Senator Maurice Hayes's committee. I am grateful to Senator Maurice Hayes for chairing that group. The fact that he is a Member of this House in no way debarred him from assisting the Government or the Garda SÃochÃ¡na on that issue.
On this occasion, however, I offer a justification for not having Members of the Oireachtas involved. What would the public perception be, for instance, if the Government were to put two backbenchers onto the executive management board, even if they were competent business people who knew how to run a company? If I, as Minister, chose Senator Tom Morrissey, who runs his own business, to sit on the Garda executive board, would the public say that was a good idea or a bad one? Somehow, I do not think they would say it was a good idea. They would say that politics should be kept out of this and that one should not appoint to this body people with whom one appears to have a political connection. They would say a person sitting at parliamentary party meetings with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should not act as a member of the executive board of An Garda SÃochÃ¡na. The board would be weakened if Members of the Oireachtas sat on it because it would compromise them in the eyes of the public. That is not to say that I do not fully agree with the proposition that the word processor in the Office of the Senior Parliamentary Counsel, which seems to knock Members of the Oireachtas off everything, should not be the default mode in legislation.
Like the Minister, I want to acknowledge the valuable work of Senator Maurice Hayes on this section, and in so many other things, while he has been a Member of this House. I also commend the many things he did before he became a Member of this House.
The Minister has partly covered the point I wish to make. He has given what many would say is valid justification for the exclusion of Members but I do not accept it, though it is nothing to do with the good Minister. This issue has been evident in many previous Bills and Members of this House and the other House opposed all of them. I partly accept what the Minister has said and he does not necessarily wish to cause exclusion but he has acknowledged on the record that the Parliamentary Counsel automatically exclude Members of the Oireachtas. This is a frightful insult to those of us participating at this level in our democracy and it is patently wrong. They do not have to be appointed but the Minister should drop this unnecessary, provocative wording that is biased against elected representatives. I do not accept this and I do not believe anyone in either House would.
For the reasons the Minister has outlined, they do not have to be appointed, it is an involved executive function, but I believe the wording in the Bill is unnecessary, as it would be in any Bill.
I am advised by the Parliamentary Counsel that the wording used in this case is standard form wording. The Parliamentary Counsel can see that this could be worded differently but sees no good reason why it should be. I am not disposed to accept this amendment in the circumstances.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 51, line 24, to delete "and".
These are technical amendments. Amendment No. 23 substitutes â¬5,000 for Â£1,000 in section 15 and â¬3,000 for Â£1,000 in section 16. The other amendments are technical in nature.
The amendment proposes to increase fine penalties and arises from a recommendation in the Hogan report which has been incorporated in sections 47 and 48. Section 47(b) increases to â¬5,000 the maximum fine for the offence of withholding information in relation to stolen property under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. The offence is a summary offence and the new level of â¬5,000 is considered the maximum for summary offences. The offence continues to provide for a period of up to 12 months imprisonment in addition to the fine.
Section 48(c) increases to â¬5,000 the maximum fine for the offence of withholding information in relation to firearms under section 52 of the 1984 Act. Again, the offence is a summary offence and the offence continues to provide for a period of up to 12 months imprisonment in addition to the fine.
I agree with the Minister's decision to shift the balance by giving powers to the courts and Garda to ensure those who are guilty of offences are held to account. Mindful of transgressions made in the past, it is vital that safeguards are in place to ensure these additional powers are not abused in any way by a small minority. Where a person concocts a statement or engages in other behaviour which incriminates a person, he or she should be exposed to a sentence equivalent to the maximum sentence available for the offence for which he or she has sought to incriminate a person who may be innocent. I have in mind some of the incidents which took place in County Donegal and elsewhere.
Although no such provision will be included in the Bill, we need to ensure deterrents are in place to discourage anyone, whether a member of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na or others, from abusing the additional powers provided for in the legislation. I hope such deterrents will be included in legislation at some point.
The Senator has made an interesting proposition. Perhaps we should have a separate offence of manufacturing a statement or falsifying a record. The Senator catches me slightly off guard on this matter but I imagine any such action would be categorised as an attempt to pervert the course of justice and punishable as such. We should examine whether we need a specific offence of knowingly creating a false record with a view to incriminating a person.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 59, before section 55, to insert the following new section:
"55.âThe Juries Act 1976 is hereby amendedâ
(a) in section 6 by the substitution of the following for section 6:
"6.âSubject to the provisions of this Act, every citizen, aged eighteen years or upwards who is resident in a jury district, shall be qualified and liable to serve as a juror for the trial of all or any issues which are for the time being triable with a jury drawn from that jury district, unless he is for the time being ineligible or disqualified for jury service.",
(b) in Part II of the First Schedule, by the deletion of the words "and under the age of seventy years" at the end of that part.".
This amendment would update the law as it pertains to the composition of juries. Effectively, it would amend the ages of jurors to bring modern juries in line with a greater proportion of society. The purpose is to remove the current restriction on eligible citizens aged 70 years or older from serving on juries by amending the upper age limit that was imposed by the Juries Act 1976. It also removes the necessity to be listed on the electoral register.
There does not appear to be a convincing rationale to deny older members of society â those aged over 70 years â the right to partake in the public administration of justice as members of a jury panel, especially in light of the changes in life expectancy in Ireland since 1976 and the quality of health enjoyed by persons over 70. It is in this context of possible concerns that may be raised in terms of older jury members that it is important to be aware of two provisions of the 1976 Act.
Persons aged in excess of 65 years will still be eligible to excuse themselves as a matter of right. This is specifically provided for in the First Schedule, Part II, where the Act details a list of categories of persons who were excusable as of right. Currently, this states that persons aged 65 years and upwards and under the age of 70 are excusable. I seek to amend this so that all persons aged 65 years or upwards will be excusable by right. In the event that someone is infirm or suffering from any kind of mental, physical or generic illness, the person is specifically ineligible to serve on a jury.
As part of the list, there is a category of incapable persons. This provides for people who because of insufficient capacity to read, deafness or other permanent infirmity are unfit to serve on a jury. It also disqualifies a person who suffers or has suffered from mental illness or mental disability and on account of that condition is either a resident of a hospital or similar institution or regularly attends for treatment by a medical practitioner.
The Juries Act 1976, initiated in the Seanad the previous year, was important legislation that updated the law on juries in Ireland. It specifically repealed the Juries Act 1927 which had theretofore imposed an age restriction of 65 years and increased it to 70 years. Introduced by the Cosgrave Government, the then Minister for Justice said at the time that the most important changes concerned the persons qualified and liable for jury service and that section 6 of the Act was the most important section as it stated the new rule as to qualification and liability for jury service.
The Juries Act 1976 was a progressive if somewhat overdue Act in so far as it removed the necessity for potential jury members to own land and have property of a certain rateable value. It also removed the facility for women to excuse themselves from service by right and allowed for them to be selected and called for jury service. This may not seem a large move but prior to the enactment of this legislation, women effectively did not serve on juries in Ireland. Prior to 1976, women had to choose to be on a list for selection for jury duty. In the two years between 1972 and 1974, only nine women are recorded as having applied to serve and so become qualified to do so, and of these, only five were called for service and only three actually served.
During its passage through the Oireachtas, the Juries Bill 1975, as it then was, drew praise from all political persuasions and was universally welcomed. This applies equally to the increase in the age limit for those eligible to serve on juries. Indeed, several Members commented on the benefit in terms of the broader representation that would be available on juries. I hope the Minister will consider accepting the amendment.
I am happy to inform the House that the Government intends to reform the law on juries generally. The Courts Service is also studying the issue of where we should go in respect of reform of jury law. Juries should not necessarily be selected the way they are, namely, that 200 people are brought in on the morning of a trial and herded like cattle and then selected at random. That is no longer necessary.
It is unnecessary also to have a system where the age limits mentioned by Senator Cummins are adhered to rigidly as people are full citizens of our society. When these proposals were made in the mid-1970s by the then Minister Cooney, he may have thought it fair that senior members of society would not be dragged into jury trials against their inclinations. However, increasing longevity means these age limits should not be mandatory, but jurors who want to excuse themselves on the grounds of age should have that facility.
The law in respect of challenging jurors must also be examined. A jury should comprise a random selection of a cross section of society. However, defence counsel frequently knock off anybody who looks respectable or anyone with a pioneer pin. Likewise, I have seen prosecutors knock off males with long pony tails. Perhaps there is something more to these decisions, but one is never given reasons. There seems to be a tendency to knock people off jury panels on arbitrary grounds, perhaps on the basis they look too respectable or too like gougers to serve on a jury. This issue should be examined.
The question of remuneration is another area for consideration. Is it reasonable to require a self-employed electrician, for example, to spend three weeks serving on a jury on a rape case? Who will recompense him or her for this? We need to look at this issue. Other areas we should examine are the intimidation and protection of juries.
I agree Mr. Cooney's initiative in the mid-1970s, arising as it did from litigation in the courts on constitutionality, was a step forward. A quarter of a century has elapsed since then and it is time now for another great leap forward, but this Bill is not the one in which to do it.
The Minister has agreed again that we should make changes, but this only bears out the point that I made earlier that today's debate is a farce. It is a farce because we do not have people questioning all sections of the Bill. I have confined my arguments to my amendments because we do not have enough time to discuss the minutiae of other areas of the Bill. Neither have we Members from all sides here to give the Bill the scrutiny it deserves.
I do not like doing this, but I am going to call for a quorum as a protest at what is happening in respect of the Bill.
I wish to refute Senator Cummins's comment that this exercise is a farce. This is one of the most far-reaching Criminal Justice Bills I have seen in the House. It is very sensible that the TÃ¡naiste does not want to put extraneous matters into the Bill and he has given cogent reasons for this.
There is disquiet because of the increase in organised crime gangs and heinous crimes in the past six months. It is important that effective mechanisms are in place to deal with them. The Bill does that, and its measures go some way towards re-balancing the system but they must be monitored and may require re-balancing again. The arguments made have been disingenuous.
I wish to compliment the Minister on this powerful legislation, which he has effected in the face of some hostility from people within the legal profession. While I respect and understand people's concerns regarding civil liberties, for a long time many Members have made the point that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of civil liberties and that a rebalancing is required. No one wishes to see a miscarriage of justice in which innocent people are incarcerated because of systematic problems. Equally however, no one wishes to see hardened criminals, who have committed the most heinous of crimes, walking our streets with impunity. This also constitutes a serious miscarriage of justice. I compliment the Minister in this regard.
More generally, I also wish to compliment him on all the legislation he has brought through the Oireachtas. During the lifetime of this Oireachtas session, he has left a highly significant mark in his portfolio and in the far-reaching legislation he has left behind, which has had a considerable impact. It has been acknowledged by others, particularly by Opposition Members who have tabled amendments and who have worked hard on the legislation in question, that he has been one of the most amenable Ministers in respect of taking on board sensible amendments, etc. I commend the Minister and wish him well.
As someone who does not have any legal training, I have found it to be an interesting challenge to be involved in the debates in the House on justice issues. It has given me an insight into both the responsibilities of the Minister and the diligence of officials within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who work extremely hard. Ultimately, all rely on their input, intelligence and efforts to ensure we have a society in which all feel comfortable and at home.
I also wish to state that my party has always supported measures that will assist the Garda and all agencies within the State to fight crime and gangland crime in particular. I hope the provisions contained in this Bill will succeed. I have some doubts regarding the constitutionality of some of the provisions, as well as the possibility of legal challenges to them at a later stage. However, that is a matter for another day. I have already noted and will not continue to express my regret there was not sufficient consultation and discussion on the Bill. For a House that analyses and comes up with good suggestions and amendments, the debate this afternoon has been disappointing because Members believed they were being treated as a rubber-stamp and with contempt, which is regrettable. Senator Jim Walsh has alluded to the possibility of this being the TÃ¡naiste's last time in the House.
Whether in his capacity as Minister or otherwise, he and I have robustly debated a number of Bills in the House in recent years. In many instances, he was receptive to my amendments, for which I thank him. The jury is out on the question of how the Government has handled the issues of law and order and the fight against crime, but the matter will be adjudicated on in another forum and on another day. I hope the Bill's intention will become fact.
I thank Members for their kind comments. It is true that as the general election approaches, every appearance in this House, however late in the life of the DÃ¡il, could be the last. It and Senators' capacities to appear here are the people's prerogative to decide on and we must abide by their verdict.
After the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which was long in its gestation, I did not anticipate the need to bring this Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas. To those who argue that I treat any House like a rubber stamp, I ask them to remember how long that Act was before the Oireachtas and how it was considered in great depth.
By last autumn, there was no doubt that certain elements in society were defying the democratic nature of the State and the rule of law by wilfully dispensing with others' lives as a matter of indifferent convenience, namely, shooting young men and others, which was intolerable. It became apparent that drugs gangs were willing to liquidate people for the slightest reason or none and that the danger to the public was growing.
I recall the clamour for action then, but the same editorial columns are now empty of enthusiasm for action on the subject. I do not know why changing the law was so clamant and obvious then, when all sorts of proposals were made, everyone was to be sent to the Special Criminal Court and every right possible was to be removed in the white heat of anger, but the Bill, when produced, is not urgent, could wait until the autumn of next year and is a pre-election stunt. I do not expect consistency. In fact, I remember the phrase used by the late Brian Lenihan about the tyranny of consistency.
Last September, I made a speech in Limerick on the need to rebalance the law. Last November, we established the rebalancing of the law committee. A rash of horrific murders took place in November and December. A recent case in the High Court related to a rape case. To the people involved, life seemed very cheap and they were willing to use grenades and shoot each other for retaliatory reasons. Today, a person in Dublin was arrested in possession of a Kalashnikov rifle.
We cannot be other than serious about these matters. Yesterday, a young man on the back of a motorcycle was shot dead in Limerick. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the lives of these individuals, public opinion demands that the law deals effectively with the perpetrators. My nightmare scenario, which almost happened recently, is that instead of attending the funerals of one person or another, I will attend the funerals of a number of gardaÃ because a drug-crazed scion of a drugs gang let fly at a squad car with a machine pistol. If that happened, all the pressure would be on me to explain why I had done nothing when it was so obvious that this was building up. I thank God members of the Garda have not been killed. However, a member was hit by gunfire a number of months ago in Ballyfermot. Members of a drugs gang appear to have let fly at him as he waited outside a house that had previously been attacked.
Having made those comments in defence of acting now rather than later, I do not regard the criminal justice system as something written in stone. It needs constant review, updating and adjustment similar to our tax and social welfare laws. If we want to be constantly in the position of keeping our criminal justice system fit for its purpose, we must be willing to review it. I do not like engaging in gestural reform. Sometimes on the neighbouring island when something happens, a Bill pops up as if out of a toaster and is enacted to deal with the issue. Although we enact a significant amount of legislation in this area, compared with England and Wales, in particular, we are quite fastidious in this regard. The British Government has introduced much more amending legislation than us. Accusations that we are serial legislators are slightly wide of the mark.
I thank my officials for working on the legislation. It was adumbrated in a criminal justice package last December, worked on over Christmas and the new year before its scheme was published in February. The Bill was then the subject of a major drafting process, which brought us into March when it was introduced and debated in the other House over six weeks followed by a much shorter debate in this House. I would have liked to introduce the Bill in this House. I cannot recall why that was not done but there was probably a good reason for it. I have found this House to be unique in its value as a reviewer, innovator and amender of legislative proposals that come before it. I pay tribute to every Member for the courteous, constructive and sometimes passionate way in which my legislative proposals have been considered over recent years. I thank, in particular, my officials for all their work. I have been a hard task master regarding much of the material produced by my Department and they know the pace of legislation has been sustained and demanding.
However, as parliamentarians, we should not be in any way reticent or ashamed about keeping our criminal justice system up to date. I have resourced and reformed the Garda SÃochÃ¡na to some extent and the process of reform is gathering pace. The Garda Ombudsman Commission will start its work soon and the inspectorate is up and running. The professional audit unit is in place and the accountability mechanisms are beginning to click into place while the executive board will be put in place quickly. All those measures are part of changing the Garda SÃochÃ¡na from a largely unreformed force to one which is responsive. While it would be difficult enough to reform a police force in the period of time in which we have done it in normal times, it has been done while under constant pressure to keep the law administered and enforced against road traffic deaths, gangland crime and the subversive threats, and deal with immigration issues, etc. To reform the Garda SÃochÃ¡na at the same time as discharging its functions has been a major challenge. It is not possible to abolish it or test a particular theory to destruction. We must do the best we can.
I express thanks to the Morris tribunal for all the input it has made into the process of reform, regardless of how unfortunate the reasons it had to make it. I pay tribute to Senator Maurice Hayes and his group â and to the Senator on other occasions â for the constant contribution to the process of reform of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na.
The men and women of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na are now entering a force which is radically different from the one that existed in our childhoods. Yesterday at Templemore I attended one of the quarterly parades for the passing out of 254 members. The backgrounds of the medal holders were examined. Interestingly a number of them have honours degrees. When I commented on this fact to Assistant Commissioner Clancy, who was on the reviewing stand with me, she said that not only are medal holders above average and wonderful people, but also a number of them hold PhDs. This indicates the kinds of people joining the force are people with considerable investment in their own education and training. I do not claim that having a PhD necessarily makes a person a better garda when operating in Temple Bar at night. However, the talent flooding into the Garda SÃochÃ¡na is huge. The real challenge for us is to use the talent and not to frustrate it and allow it to wither on the vine.
I pay tribute not only to the management of the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, but in particular to the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners. Although they are proud of their institution, they have been willing to embrace the process of change. Change is coming about in law enforcement here. Ultimately, in a few years, we will see that change has been dramatically for the better.
I thank the Members of this House on behalf of myself and my officials for their courtesy and their kind remarks. I wish them all well in whatever electoral endeavours in which they may be involved in the relatively near future.